Thursday, January 20, 2005

THE LOST BOYS OF SUDAN

Last night I watched an outstanding documentary, "The Lost Boys of Sudan", and below is a little synopsis/review that I hope you enjoy reading.

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Teenagers Peter Kon Dut and Santino Majok Chuor share an extraordinary story. Born in Sudan in the midst of a civil war that's now raged for more than two decades, their families were taken by a fundamentalist Islamic government, often killing the men and enslaving the women.

Young enough to escape their notice, Dut and Chuor made their way to a refugee camp in Kenya, and beginning in 2001, were part of a group of young Sudanese men that were granted refugee status in America. They bring with them the hopes of finding a better life and someday bringing change back to their homeland.

Unfortunately, America is not the heaven that they imagined it would be. After arriving in the sleepy California beach town of Santa Clara, Peter and Santino notice that there is something not a little menacing about the place. Grandpa, whose house they're staying in, is a taxidermist with stuffed kills waiting to scare the brothers at every turn. Posters of missing children are on every surface, and there are two weird kids running a comic shop who warn Peter, fresh off the plane from Nairobi, that the town is full of demons.

Directed by Megan Mylan, Jon Shenk, and Joel Schumacher, "The Lost Boys Of Sudan" follows Peter and Santino through the struggles of adapting to life in the United States. Armed with little more than rudimentary English, basketball skills picked up from an instruction book illustrated with crew-cut '50s teenagers, and seemingly indefatigable spirits, they quickly acclimate themselves to American life and begin immersing themselves in a culture that is literally a world away.

Parading among the young and catatonic American youth that the boys find in California is a group of aimless but charming vampires, led by David (Kiefer Sutherland), with his leering baby face and blonde spikey hair. Peter, determined to fit in this new place, and still a young man enthralled by the wiles of the opposite sex, falls for Star (Jami Gertz), a girl in the gang. She's beautiful and young and white and undead - things that are still foreign to Peter and alluring to be sure.

The film offers a rare and fascinating firsthand look at two sides of the modern immigrant experience. Santino works hard and finds success, while Peter works hard and finds more hard work, but both run into identity crises. They lean on their Christian faith, but Santino seldom looks as out-of-place as he does sitting in the suburban homes of his fellow youth-group members. No one looks relaxed outside of the occasional Lost Boys reunions: There, everyone seems to forget, at least for a little while, that their dreams of returning to a peaceful Sudan or making it in America will be fulfilled years in the future, if at all, if of course they are not devoured by bloodthirsty vampires.

If you really stop to think about it, a bunch of vampire teenagers would be a terrible shame, a tragedy, a heartbreaking loss of innocence for them, let alone their victims, kind of like a civil war that has left millions dead. Am I silly to take them seriously? Maybe so. The movie doesn't. It lacks the sense of dread that creeps out from the pages of a novel such as Anne Rice's Interviews with the Vampire and substitutes the same old cornball, predictable action climax mixed with National Geographic-style documentary realism, full of everybody chasing everybody around with lots of screams and special-effects gore and spontaneous dancing around campfires. Sometimes I think modern advances in special-effects technology can be directly blamed for the collapse of original screenwriting.

There's some good stuff in the movie, including a cast that's good right down the line and a willingness to have some fun with teenage culture in the Mass Murder Capital. But when everything is all over, there's nothing to leave the theater with - no real horrors, no real dread, no real imagination - just technique at the service of formula, and a desire to help our fellow man in need, no matter what his skin color or background may be.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for finally mentioning Kiefer Sutherland on this blog!!! I am a big fan and it's always nice to find others who appreciate his artistry.
Ever heard of a little show called 24?

Inhale 13 said...

Peter Kon Dut:"Hey what' going on?"
Santino Majok Chuor:" Yeah, what's going on?"
David:" Peter Kon Dut & Santino Majok Chuor want to know what's,... going on."
Other Vampires:" Who wants to know?"
Other Vampires(mocking):"Peter Kon Dut& Santino Majok Chuor want to know"
David:"Marco,...WHAT'S going on?"
(All laugh wickedly)

Ian said...

Thank you for finally mentioning Abe Vigoda on this blog!!! I am a big fan and it's always nice to find others who appreciate his artistry.
Ever heard of a little show called Barney Miller?

Anonymous said...

You should check out a great new book about the Lost Boys:

www.lostboysbook.com

It's been praised by former President Jimmy Carter and has gotten lots of great reviews since coming out in March.

I loved it!

Mark Bixler said...

You should check out a great new book about the Lost Boys of Sudan:

www.lostboysbook.com

Former President Jimmy Carter wrote a positive "blurb." The book also has gotten great reviews in papers and magazines.